The DACA trap

You are three years old, sitting between your mother and father on an airplane. It is summertime and you are going to visit your aunt and your big cousin in New York. For now, Mami and Papi are your whole world.

Flash-forward to the present. You never got back on that airplane because New York became your home. You grew up near your cousins, went to school, graduated from college with a Masters in economics and got a restaurant job. Along the way you learned to be careful. You can’t drive because you can’t get a license. Travel is out of the question, unless you want to see Iraq as a soldier. Your only passport is from a country you don’t even remember.

You ignore the elephant in the room—your immigration status—because there is nothing you can do about it. By the age of three, you had already overstayed your visa and that made you an illegal alien, subject to deportation. You learn to fly low, to stay out of trouble. The risks other teens take are too risky for you.

As your abilities grow, your opportunities shrink. As a top-ranked student of economics, you work in a commercial kitchen and room with a local family because you can’t drive to work. You refuse a prize in your subject because, as an illegal, you can’t accept government grants. You can pay taxes, but you can’t get health insurance.

For years you watch as Congress fights about the DREAM Act, an imperfect piece of legislation that might show you the way to a real job, if not a solution to your immigration purgatory. With each legislative session the rules change, but you continue to narrowly fit the definition of a “Dreamer.” Even with bi-partisan support the legislation never gets past the Senate. You and roughly 850,000 other people like you can’t even vote.

In 2012, President Obama sees the handwriting on the wall in Congress and issues an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It applies to you. The requirements are that you arrived in the U.S. before your 16th birthday, have at least a high school diploma or an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, be free of any felony conviction and not pose a threat to national security. The only catch is that it does not provide legal immigration status or a path to citizenship.

If you apply for DACA, your immigration status will be on record. They will do a background check and have you fingerprinted. Your parents think it is risky choice. They worry that an executive order can be overturned by a subsequent administration hostile to immigration. Others argue it will mean you can get the things you need to accomplish your goals: a real job, a driver’s license, a bank account.

You’re not sure. You talk to a lawyer. Then you do it. In a foreshadowing of the Catch-22, you have to drive to a remote location in the Bronx (without a driver’s license) to fill out the paperwork and get fingerprinted. In a few weeks you receive the Deferred Action status.

With your new status, you get a good job and a driver’s license and you buy a car. In the meantime, your foreign passport has expired. Then the thing your parents warned you about happens. The President-elect threatens to revoke DACA (or just let it expire). In a few months, all the things you worked for will be at risk. And you can’t even go to Canada. You’re in the DACA trap.


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